Many Arab nations call on US for more decisive leadership
Hello, Washington, are you listening any more? From one end of the Middle East to the other, Arab nations are calling for more clear-cut American statements of policy - and in some cases for more decisive action.
Arab diplomats claim that the answers they are getting from the Reagan administration add up to confusion, silence, or being put on hold.
Despite what is widely perceived both here and abroad to have been an American setback in Lebanon, it is clear that important Arab nations - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, for example, not to speak of Lebanon - look to the United States to show leadership and continue influencing events.
Washington is reappraising events following the US Marine withdrawal from Lebanon. The Defense Department shows no signs of wanting to get the US Navy back into the battle for Lebanon.
But here as elsewhere in the Middle East, there appear to be divisions among President Reagan's advisers. The United States continues to project an aura of murkiness about its designs.
Foreign diplomats are hoping that Secretary of State George P. Shultz will give them a clearer idea of Washington's priorities when he delivers a major speech on the Middle East to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday.
Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are urging the United States to move toward recognition of a need for Palestinian self-determination and direct contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
''There is a need to strengthen the hand of the moderates,'' said a senior Arab diplomat here recently. ''The next step in the peace process will be very important. You must get the initiative back. Nothing is worse than stagnation or a stalemate.''
It seems unlikely that the US will move in the direction of any kind of PLO recognition in an election year. Congressmen friendly to Israel are already attempting to preempt the possibility that the administration might once again try to talk even indirectly with the PLO in light of the indirect contacts which were recently revealed.
President Reagan's special Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, is expected to return to the region soon to focus not on Lebanon as he had before but on the Palestinian issue. He is expected to stop in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. But it is not clear that the administration has any new ideas to offer for dealing with the difficult Palestinian issue.
Murkiness also prevails when it comes to the US attitude toward Iraq and Iran and their ongoing, and seemingly escalating, war. The government of Iraq and the Arab oil-producing Gulf states that have been supporting it are reported to be alarmed by a lack of clarity in American public statements on the issue.
The US State Department did issue a statement that one expert described as a ''mild slap on the wrist'' for Iran when, despite a moratorium declared by Iraq, the Iranians launched new attacks.
The US has assumed a public position of military neutrality vis-a-vis Iran and Iraq. But it has taken modest political and economic steps to assist Iraq.
The Iraqis are convinced Israel continues to provide some form of military aid to Iran and wonder why the US is unable to stop it. The US has taken an unambiguous position on keeping open Gulf oil lanes, warning Iran that the US and its allies would clear the Strait of Hormuz should Iran try to block it.
When it comes to Lebanon, the US has in some regards been developing a clear position, but not a position that is pleasing to the Lebanese government, which it has supported. Diplomatic sources say that when President Amin Gemayel's national security adviser, Wadi Haddad, visited here last week he was told by Secretary of State Shultz that the US would not use its naval guns to halt a drive by Shiite and Druze militias to capture the few remaining key government-held positions just outside Beirut.
The diplomatic sources said Mr. Haddad's talks here with top US officials gave President Gemayel little he could use as leverage with Syrian President Hafez Assad, whom he was supposed to meet in Damascus Wednesday. Haddad is reported to have warned that further advances by opposition militia forces could result in massacres of Christians in areas near Beirut.
''Amin tried to play all kinds of cards before he went to Syria, and he still counts on the US,'' said one source. ''But he's running out of cards. What can he do?''